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Clock ticking for legislature to pass controversial Care Court proposal

Major concerns persist over how Care Court would be funded and whether it would infringe on the civil liberties of those it is designed to help.

SAN DIEGO — California State legislators returned from their summer recess Monday with a major deadline looming: in the next 30 days, they have to decide whether to pass or kill hundreds of legislative bills.

One of the most sweeping, and controversial, of these is Care Court which would use local courts to help provide treatment and housing to those who mentally ill and homeless. 

Governor Gavin Newsom has touted care court as a "bold new strategy" which has already passed the State Senate unanimously, but still must pass the Assembly. 

There are some major concerns, though, over how it would be funded and whether it would infringe on the civil liberties of those it is designed to help.

Earlier this year, Governor Newsom unveiled his vision for handling the state's growing homelessness problem: using the county courts to order treatment for homeless people who are battling mental illness.

"We are taking a new approach," he said. "It is court-ordered, there is court oversight with specific stepped-up sanctions if you can't meet the plan."

A first responder, family member or clinician could refer a person to 'Care Court,'  a civil court judge would then set a course of treatment, including medication, support services, and a plan for housing.

While here in San Diego, Care Court has the backing of Mayor Todd Gloria and County Board of Supervisors Chair Nathan Fletcher, some are questioning how it would be paid for.

"The real opposition that seems to be emerging are the people saying wait hold on a minute, it's the counties that would actually have to carry this forward, that would have to provide that housing, provide all of those services, and be held to account to the tune of $1,000 fines per day if they didn't provide that," said Thad Kousser, chair of U.C. San Diego's political science department. "So counties are asking for some steps to make sure that they can actually implement this vision."

"We know that this is going to be challenging for some counties and we're willing to work and support them so that they can deliver these sorts of models," said California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly.

California's legislature approved $12 billion last year for homeless and housing services, and in the latest budget, approved in June, an additional $2.2 billion  has been approved for mental health housing. 

$3 billion of this would funds 33,000 new beds, according to state officials. 

Some homeless advocates are also questioning the legality of this proposal, which would force individuals into psychiatric treatment or into a conservatorship, if they fail to follow the court-ordered plan.

"We have to be very judicious," said Deacon Jim Vargas of Father Joe's Villages. "We do not want to take away people's civil liberties. Civil liberties in our country are sacrosanct across the board."

Governor Newsom has insisted that due process and civil liberties will be guaranteed.

The overall price tag for Care Court is still being hammered out. If approved by the Assembly by August 31, this new program could be in place statewide by the end of this year. 

WATCH RELATED: Rental competition: study shows average of 24 applicants for every rental in San Diego (July 2022).


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